Using Pressure to Fuel Greatness: Three Questions with Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser
Considered one of the best female hockey players in the world — with seven world championships, six Olympic appearances, and five Olympic medals — Hayley Wickenheiser is a titan of sport and a leader both on and off the ice.
Today, Hayley sits on the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Athletes Commission and is the Player Development Assistant Director for The Toronto Maple Leafs, while also studying medicine at the University of Calgary.
Drawing on her experiences as a successful female athlete in a male-dominated sport, as a world champion and Olympian, and as someone who continuously strives to be better even when considered at the top of her game, Hayley inspires audiences to give their best in everything they do. She shared some of her secrets to success with us, including how she has used and continues to use pressure as a motivator, and where she found the strength to keep pushing past barriers she encountered on the way.
1. When you started playing hockey, it was a game that traditionally belonged to boys and men. How did you find the strength to stick with what you loved and go against the grain?
I played the game of hockey first and foremost because I fell in love with the game. Every time I stepped on the ice it was something different and I just loved the imagination and creativity that came with the physical skill needed for the game.
I learned at a young age not to listen to the critical opinion of others and to become resilient. I had a lot of people supporting me in my community — my parents believed in me and I believed in myself that I was good and that when I stepped on the ice, I could play with anyone at any given time.
Although I had a lot of anxiety and stress on my way to the rink, I felt safe when I got on the ice that no one would could touch me and I think that really propelled me onward along with a healthy dose of a high fear of failure. So, I learned a lot of lessons the easy way and the hard way throughout my career.
2. As a world champion and Olympian, you have faced immense pressure in your career. How did you use pressure to fuel instead of hindering your performance?
Pressure is a privilege. People wouldn’t ask you to do great things if they didn’t believe in you. So, it’s all about changing the narrative around pressure. It’s about spinning the way in which you foresee obstacles and pressure-filled circumstances so that they work in your favour. You can choose to look at it as a burden or you can choose to look at it as a gift, and a place that a lot of people would desire to be but not a lot of people can handle.
So, I’ve always embrace pressure, I’ve always loved it. I always wanted my competitors to be at their very best because that meant that if I performed and played at my very best then I was the best, and we, as a team, were the best. So, you have to use pressure and be willing to spin it in your favour at times and, most importantly, be able to offload when necessary and not go at it alone. That’s the beauty of a team sport, it really makes a difference.
3. You’re considered a sport titan! How did you stay motivated to continue improving your performance, even when you were at the top of your game?
I believe in constantly getting out of your comfort, doing something that’s uncomfortable every day that challenges you. I guess you could I’m very comfortable with being uncomfortable, probably because I’ve been forced to do that in my life so many times. And now, I continue to do it every single day practicing medicine at medical school and even stepping out on the ice with the Leafs can be an intimidating environment. But I thrive on those things and I think that’s what has made me so resilient, that’s what has made me tough and to develop a deep-seeded belief in myself.
Even when I was at the top of my game, I always strived to seek out ways to become better. So I think in a way, I’m a bit of a seeker and I believe that we must stay curious, hungry, and motivated, and to always try to improve and evolve regardless of where we’re at in our career, whether as an athlete or in business.
Interested in learning more about Hayley and what she can bring to your next event? Email us at [email protected].